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Kingmaker Kate Pynoos in CD13?      

DEEGAN ON LA - A “practical progressive” can suddenly tilt the CD13 election runoff and should be feared by incumbent Mitch O’Farrell (CD13) more than he may be wary of his titular opponent Hugo Soto-Martinez. 

With her support, challenger Soto-Martinez may win the district 13 election against O’Farrell on November 8. But, at what cost to Kate Pynoos? 

One of Raman’s Raiders, Pynoos brings a steel-backed softness to a progressive movement trying to breach the walls of City Hall. Her practicality contrasts with the harshness of Hugo Soto-Martinez’s message that contains red-meat-for-radicals positions like defunding the police and abolishing jails, neither of which are on her agenda. 

Unofficial Primary Election results for CD13 show Soto-Martinez at 35.9%, O’Farrell at 35.7%, and Pynoos at 15.3%. The still-being-counted final tally will be certified thirty days after the election. If everyone that voted for Pynoos cast general election votes for Soto-Martinez, and his base holds, he would have 51.2% of the vote, subject to additional voters that did not vote in the primary. That should worry Mitch O’Farrell and the Eric Garcetti machine that has helped elect and protect him all these years. 

Given the chance to vote for Hugo, Pynoos voters did not. But she now has a chance to convert them to Hugo voters if they can get past whatever reason it was they did not vote for him in the first place. And, if Pynoos is willing to put her reputation on the line by endorsing Soto-Martinez. 

The radical left Democratic Socialists of America-Los Angeles (DSA-LA), backers of Soto-Martinez, have created a harshly edged political identity that may have appealed to voters caught up in the Bernie buzz of 2020. This could be what the CD4 voters responded to when they elected Nithya Raman that year. But, political radicalism can only go so far, and for so long, before it becomes an echo chamber.

All her skills would be needed by Pynoos, who has carefully cultivated an image not in alignment with Soto-Martinez, to convince her base to switch gears from the collegiality of practical progressivism to rubbing shoulders with the self-styled comrades of the DSA-LA that Hugo leans on for support. 

The 13th is a bellwether progressive district that includes Hollywood, Echo Park, Silver Lake, Westlake, Atwater Village and Elysian Valley.  It’s minority white with a heavy Latino presence. It has been led by some marquee names in LA politics: Michael Woo, Jackie Goldberg, Eric Garcetti and now Mitch O’Farrell, a onetime Garcetti deputy.  

Soto-Martinez’s message had limits with District 13 voters. His backing by the DSA-LA may be an albatross in the general election when, as has been proven by the huge primary vote numbers for centrist Rick Caruso and moderate Karen Bass, the electorate is focused on crime and public safety not on abolishing jails as Soto-Martinez is. 

In the current political environment, it may be tone deaf and toxic for Soto-Martinez to be advocating for defunding the police and abolishing jails, but that’s a core element of his political profile and his platform that he can’t escape from. Would Pynoos risk signing onto that rhetoric and asking her voters to also? It’s a vote-killer wedge issue when used against him.  

Nithya Raman came into office more radical than she is today, a common political phenomenon of what Lyndon B. Johnson called the expediency of going along to get along. But Hugo’s being in irreversible lockstep with the DSA-LA may be his Achilles heel. 

Pynoos’ political background contrasts with Hugo. Her hands-on experience working as a law clerk for Senator Charles Schumer (NY), a legislative deputy for Councilmember Mike Bonin (CD11), and as Outreach Chair of the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council gives her practical political experience at state, district, and neighborhood levels. She has learned how to go along and get along with many different constituencies.  

Morphing Pynoos voters into Hugo voters, would mean Pynoos moving farther left than she and her supporters may want to go. If she remains neutral and O’Farrell is reelected, she will have his attention. If she flips to Soto-Martinez and he doesn’t win, O’Farrell can ignore her.  

That’s the tricky position for any kingmaker: “what will my political capital be worth the day after the general election?” 

(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose Deegan on LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appear in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at [email protected].)